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Sunday in Dallas: A Chess Dad's Decathlon Print E-mail
By Mark Schein   
December 15, 2009
Mark and Aaron Schein in Dallas
I understand that if your opponent doesn’t show up at the board, you may start your clock.  If you don’t have a clock, you rush around to borrow or buy one.  Well, what happens if you are playing in an adult tournament and you are only playing because your son’s games last three hours, you have an extra clock, but you show up at the board without chess pieces?  Can you start your clock without a board or pieces in front of you?  That happened to me recently.  Of course I started my clock.  But then my opponent arrived, so I restarted it.  He didn’t share in my amusement at the situation.  Chess presents many complicated scenarios.

I wasn't going to write another article. I'm getting tired. But then the first day of the K-12 Nationals happened and, well, read on and you'll know what I mean.
Aaron played down 600+ points in round 1. His buddy Gavin played down 500+ points. So I walked the boys to their boards without a book or a newspaper or any idea of what I was in for. Three hours later, it was 4:00 p.m., I had walked miles around the hotel lobby, spoken to many people, promised God that I would give up soda if Aaron and Gavin won, and fielded hundreds of emails and texts from Gavin's chess dad in Chicago wondering what was going on. Oh, and by the way, neither Aaron nor Gavin were finished. Well, actually, Aaron was finished in that he was losing to a terrific competitor from Columbus, Ohio. However, with less than a minute left on his clock, Aaron found a way to win. Gavin also pulled through. They were both tired and happy. I was a mess. I pulled it together long enough to give them their between round schedule for the next 1 hour and 45 minutes. It was the following:
4:15-4:30: throw a football and run around as hard as you can outside under my supervision.
4:30: back to the room. Into bed. Your head has to be on a pillow, although you can watch TV (but I want you to maintain head to pillow contact). I will go to pick up sandwiches and food while you rest.
5:00: dinner is served in bed.
5:30: get up and get your chess materials together.
Five football catches thrown across the hotel room that must be caught in a full dive onto the bed.  Hopefully, the staff at the Opryland Hotel aren’t reading this, as it may explain how the headboard became detached from the bed in room 2439 last spring.

Round 2
I couldn't repeat my afternoon torture of myself, so I stayed in my room for an hour and read and did work. It was incredibly relaxing. I was actually able to forget about chess for a short while. At some point I ventured back downstairs.
Round 2 was over in an hour and a half. Both boys won. I was rejuvenated by the thrill of victory and started my article, writing purely on adrenaline.  A few things from the day came to mind:
Have you ever tried talking to people outside the tournament room while your child is in his 2nd or 3rd hour of a match? It's pure torture. Your mind tells you that you need to distract yourself from the internal pain of the waiting.  But you don't want to be distracted. You want your child to emerge and your pain to end. Can we hook up a few parents to blood pressure monitors during rounds and see how healthy chess is for us?  Is there an inverse relationship between your blood pressure and the rating of your child’s opponent? As the rating of your child’s opponent decreases, your blood pressure increases and this can be multiplied by the number of hours they’ve been at the board.  Either way, you seek out a friendly face to talk to as you wait. That person, who is also waiting for a child, pretends to want to speak to you as well.  Don't worry, the other parent didn't notice your lack of attention because he or she too had both eyes focused beyond you at the ballroom door. He didn't hear any of your comments either. Today, he doesn't remember ever having spoken to you. However, deep in your subconscious, that Kabuki dance has bonded you and that parent together for life.  Years from now, you will run into each other on the street and embrace like two army Vets who have been through battle together.  You won’t remember the venue or the round, but you’ll remember that you’ve both been through some terribly trying ordeal together. 

Let’s take a moment to tactfully discuss the phone calls we receive at these tournaments from our spouse at home.  I used to wonder how our spouses always knew to call when we were most stressed.  But then I realized that there are not any “good times” at these tournaments to sit and chat with someone who is not in the heat of battle.  In order to have a proper telephone conversation, you need to be listening.  Remember, your spouse is not standing next to you staring towards the tournament hall.  So when your spouse asks about buying pottery at a local fair, and you respond by saying “it’s too early to tell how he’s doing”, you’re not going to be well appreciated at home.  Let’s face it, the one real time that you want to call home from these tournaments is in the momentary ecstasy of a big late-round win, and when your spouse answers the phone and hears you out of breath, near tears, gasping out that “he pulled it out with just a few seconds left, it happened, he did it, I can’t believe he won,” they will respond with something like “so what time does your flight get in?” or “He’s going to be really tired for school tomorrow.” There’s bound to be some tension.

These tournaments can put a crimp in the tranquility of everyday home life.  (It never helped that the USCF loves to schedule the spring elementary school nationals on Mother’s Day Weekend!! Thanks guys.)  Take this domestic stress level and multiply it by the number of weekend tournaments your child travels to during the year, and subtract it from 100 to see how well appreciated chess is at home.  Maybe the USCF can calculate a rating for that?  The All-American bio for a player would read “Johnny reached an all-time high rating of 2160 last spring while winning six out of state tournaments.  This out of state success brought his parents’ Domestic Tranquility Rating down to a new low of 953.”

The playing hall at the K-12s, Photo Todd Andrews

Let’s talk about this tournament in Dallas for a minute.  I have to start by saying that this was the most organized, best run nationals I’ve ever been to.  I knew something was up when I saw that the USCF had brought in Tournament Director Steve Immitt for this years’ event.  Thursday morning the Bughouse pairings were up 15 minutes before the scheduled start time.  The Blitz, which in years past has been so late running and out of control that local officials considered calling in the National Guard, ran incredibly smoothly.  Pairings were up early and easily accessible for the entire event.  It was actually a joy.  I’m expecting the next time Steve is the TD for one of these tournaments, I will arrive at the first round pairings and instead see the final round STANDINGS.  That’s it, all calculated and finished, he saved us the agony of actually playing the games, we can just enjoy ourselves and go home.

The venue this year, the Hilton Anatole, has been spacious and comfortable.  The playing halls are a few steps walk from the elevators to our rooms.  Making our way around the venue has been easy.  This tournament has shown many improvements over previous nationals and the USCF should be commended.
Women's World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk in front of this year's trophies display. Photo chesspics.com

Once the USCF is done being commended, maybe they can explain the mystery of the incredible shrinking trophies.  Aaron’s beyond the trophy stage, he’d rather win money, but many young children are new to the game and they, along with me, like to go home with hardware.  It used to be that every section received 25 trophies and they were very large.  Sure they were bigger than any trophies we had ever seen, and more kids were winning them than we were used to, but heck, those trophies meant that 25 parents would be able to decompress on the trip home knowing that they had something shiny and large for all their efforts over the five day weekend.  We also all had something to show our spouse at breakfast Monday morning, “You see baby, that’s what this was all about.” Well now the USCF is giving out 10 to 15 trophies per section.  Likewise, for the Bughouse and Blitz.  The number of trophies has declined significantly without explanation.  Is there a budgetary issue?  Are they just trying to cut back to a reasonable sensible number and size?  Reward the top winners and avoid the American phenomenon of rewarding mediocrity? Well listen here, there is nothing sensible about these weekends and the kids aren’t the ones who need the trophies.  The parents do.  Either way, a lot of parents mentioned the trophies this weekend, so I thought I’d mention it.  And hats off to the father who decided to move his son’s trophies to his office. USCF's National Event Director Pat Knight responded: "The trophies were the same size (two inches over Scholastic Regulations), but the number of trophies for each section is determined on the previous year's entries. (there were more players in 2007 than 08 and 09, perhaps due to Fall 08's financial crisis but Pat points out that some sections actually had more trophies, such as the 7th grade section.)"

Aaron and Mark Schein at the 2009 SuperNationals

Aaron’s Saturday was filled with very good long matches.  The average rating of his opponents was over 2000.  He won one of the matches.  He was very proud of himself as he has come very close to beating top players over the years only to wind up with draws or last minute losses.  This was a hard fought and good day.  
Aaron analyzing with some high-rated contenders as TD Chris Bird looks on

Sunday proved to be a very tough and satisfying day.  Aaron played well and had a good tournament, but I am now referring to what should be called the Parent’s Decathlon.  The final Sunday of a US Chess Nationals features one of the most physically demanding and emotionally trying events in modern parenting.  The events are listed in the USCF Program in the following order:

1.    Awaken your child at the proper moment for the early round that will allow him to get the maximum sleep and still be awake and coherent for the first move; (This requires quiet stealth-like movements around the hotel room until the proper moment.  It also requires constant calculations of how much sleep he has gotten and how long he will need to be ready)
2.    Feed your child adequately; (This requires knowledge of potential breakfast spots that offer take out food.  Often, speed is critical to get to the food ahead of the competition and get it back quickly.  Bonus points are awarded to parents who can bring the food back before the child awakens.) (By the way, points are deducted for anyone who feeds themselves or their child from room service trays left outside other rooms on your floor, with the exception of after the Saturday night round at which time it is deemed an acceptable option and even encouraged.)
3.    Seat him at his board with the right amount of encouragement without putting too much pressure on him;
4.    Hustle back to the hotel room to pack all of your belongings;
5.    Retrieve your child from his match; (the Sunday round occasionally requires additional medical expertise as your child is under a great deal of stress and is basically fried from the day before.  Nose bleeds, stomach and headaches are common);
6.    Feed and rest your child; (Similar to above, however, since you can see light at the end of the tunnel with only one round to go, it is common to allow a lunch of candy bars, ice cream, or pretzels.)
7.    Re-seat him for round 7; (See note three, above)
8.    Race at full speed back to your room, pray that your room-card still works since it’s past the mandatory check-out time, and try to gather the bags and coats to check out; (This is considered the most taxing event, since it requires speed and strength to carry all the possessions by yourself.  This usually includes two roller bags, two coats, a computer bag, your child’s extremely heavy backpack because he got so much homework done this weekend, and sometimes a blitz or bughouse trophy.)
9.    Lug all of your and your child’s belongings to either a team room or somewhere near the tournament hall where you can guard them for the next few hours while pacing the area, checking on your child’s body language at his board and pretending to chat with other nervous, luggage guarding parents; and finally,
10.    Retrieve your child from round seven, give him or her hugs, dry his tears if necessary, tell him you’re proud of him and make a mad dash for the airport to make a flight which will get you to your home city way later than you anticipated when you were making the reservations three months ago.
And now you’re home.  Monday is usually a decompression day.  Don’t try to get any real work accomplished.  Just reflect on the tournament, catch up on emails, and check out the venue for the next nationals.  See you all soon.

See the first part of Mark Schein's article here and his King's Island report here. Browse the results & pairings here. 
Later this week, look for more views from the K-12 Nationals including FM Todd Andrews' dispatch from the USCF store and chess mom Melinda J. Matthews thoughts on being a chess volunteer.


November - Chess Life Online 2009

In Dallas, A Rocky Start, a “Rocky” FinishNewsflash: Results in for Thanksgiving TourneysFront Page News: University of Texas at Dallas Chess Team Travels to Cuba Three Lead American Open at Halfway Point Nakamura Tops Carlsen in BNbank Blitz in Norway Thanksgiving Tourneys Begin in Philly and LAAmericans in the World Cup: Kamsky OutAmericans in the World Cup: Akobian and Shabalov Out GM Josh Friedel on the World Cup: All the Way to Siberia for This? Sharks and Knights in US Chess League Championships! Morales and Samuelson Win Duncan Oxley New National Event: US Girls Junior OpenKamsky Advances; Akobian and Shabalov Head to TiebreaksIce Cream, Two Minute and Norm Hopefuls at the University of Texas at DallasWorld Cup Round 2, Game 1: Kamsky Wins, Onischuk FaltersShabalov and Akobian Advance in World Cup! Action and Upsets in IllinoisSilver for Tanuj and Samritha! Americans in the World Cup: Two Advance, Three Go To TiebreakNorm Hunting in Texas BeginsNational Youth Action in Full SwingUSA Scores 4.5/10 in World Cup Game 1 Two Rounds to Go in the World Youth! GM Josh Friedel on the World Cup: A Long Road to Siberia Tanuj, Jarod and Samritha Roll on Countdown to the World CupA Parent's Perspective on King's IslandBig US Scorers Increase Pressure at World Youth Video From the King's Island Open Tanuj, Sarah, Samritha and Jarod on 5/6 in Turkey Five Tie in Turkey BowlKnockouts, Knights, Sharks and Mechanics Advance in USCL Playoffs Alena and Tanuj Still Perfect at World YouthUps and Downs in Round Two of the World YouthUS World Youth Squad Scores 22/25 in Round 1 Big Opens Kick Off in Ohio and FloridaAbby Marshall Previews the World YouthOn the Way to TurkeyGM in Residence at the CCSCSL: Ben Finegold GM Ronen Har-Zvi Hosts Kick off Schenectady Simul 15 spots up for grabs at 2010 U.S. Chess ChampionshipUS Chess League Heads to PlayoffsGM Larry Kaufman's Final Word on the World Senior Texas and Belgrade Colleges Battle Kaufman on the World Senior's Final Stretch GM Robert Hess on Channel One 25 Player World Youth Squad SetLenderman Fifth in World Junior!All-American Battle Set for Round Eight of the World Senior GM Joel on Quality vs. Quantity in Your RepertoireThe November Check is in the Mail World Cup Round 1 PairingsBryan Smith Scores 14-3 in Allentown Halloween Simul Week 9 US Chess League RecapUS Chess Scoop #9- A Lesson with Lenderman